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Thai Bodybuilder Makes Waves as First Southeast-Asian Woman in Mr. Olympia Competition

This September, Thai bodybuilder Penpraghai Tiangngok, known as Fon, became the first Southeast-Asian woman to compete in the Olympia bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas.

Fon won 10th place in the Women’s Physique Olympia event. Other qualifiers were from countries such as the United States, Brazil, Canada, and Italy.

The Olympia competition, commonly known as Mr. Olympia, is the world’s oldest and largest bodybuilding contest. The International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) held the first Mr. Olympia in New York in 1965, but did not accept women until 1980.

It took another 37 years for the competition to see its first Southeast-Asian woman, but before Fon received that title, she had to overcome adversity in her own country.

Fon became an office worker when she finished school, and had no plans to even pursue bodybuilding until her Czech boyfriend introduced her to “serious competitive training,” Generation Iron says.

“I didn’t think of competing at first; I just wanted a nice body and a six-pack,” Fon told BBC.

In 2008, she moved from her home province of Loei to the beach town of Pattaya, where she works as a personal trainer and owns her own gym.

Fon said that even though bodybuilding has become more popular in Pattaya, people still see her as a “freak.”

“I like to dress up and wear make-up, and whenever I go to Central (Central Festival Pattaya Beach), people look at me and they know I’m a bodybuilder,” she said. “But when I go to the market, I get different looks.”

Fon began competing in 2012, when she participated in Mr. Thailand, the country’s biggest bodybuilding competition. After her success there, she was accepted onto Thailand’s national bodybuilding team.

Her spot on the team allowed her to compete internationally, specifically in Singapore, at an event sponsored by World Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation (WBPF). However, this event marked the end of her run with the team, because she became frustrated when she ranked last out of 10 competitors.

“I believe that if I am really talented, I am capable of going to anywhere in the world,” she told BBC.

Around this same time, the local press published stories saying Fon had been arrested for using steroids, which are illegal because of their addictive qualities.

A police officer arranged a sting operation where they attempted to purchase steroids online and have Fon deliver them to a local bus terminal. Fon says that she lacked the license to sell the products, so she she has yet to be asked to appear in court, despite being asked to report to the police station.

“Many people ask me whether or not I use steroids,” Fon said. “I ask them why they don’t ask me how I train or how many hours I work out… I want others to know that using steroids doesn’t help you to get bigger. The first thing that helps is the amount of weights you lift.”

Fon’s next goal is to reach top three of her Olympia category, a feat she can only accomplish by qualifying at a pro-competition in the beginning of 2018.

“The way I see it is if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best,” said Fon.

With an attitude like that, Fon seems rightfully determined to prevent anything from standing in her way of victory.

Featured Image by istolethetv on Flickr

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